Jestice for All
“It’s a joke, but it’s not a joke,” said Bunny. Clad in bright wigs, rainbow clothes, and red noses, Occupy Wall Street’s Clown Bloq managed to stand out even amid the sometimes raucously diverse crowd at Sunday’s anti-NATO protest. The Bloq is a tactic used to de-escalate potentially tense protest situations while parodying what members see as the political absurdity of the NATO summit.
At least a dozen strong, the bloq moved together, bringing up the rear as protesters marched south from Grant Park toward McCormick place. Bunny paused in front of a group of stern-faced riot police, her grin exaggerated by sloppy bright red face paint. She posed for pictures with a bumper sticker reading, “The Police are Your Friends!” Fellow clowns laughed and cooed over the officers–“Aren’t they adorable?”
Bunny said, “I try to make [the police] smile. That’s our whole thing. They stand there and look so serious all the time, and we try to make them smile.” Asked about the bloq’s other goals, her voice dropped its sing-song clown cadence: “We protect the protest…by keeping the cops away from our friends. It’s a bloq, so our goal is to make sure that everybody in the protest stays safe.”
Walking among their fellow protesters, the clowns were tailed by a black-clad human chain that stretched across the street, forming a barrier between marchers and the line of riot police behind them. As the police and black bloc chain grew close to the other protesters, several clowns fell suddenly to the ground, flailing dramatically. Moments later they jumped up, the lines behind them stalled by the bodies on the ground. Asked about his collapse, clown “Scrappy Doo,” was chipper: “A heat wave just hit me. It might’ve been a drone attack or something.”
Though the twitter account that the bloq maintained in the weeks before the protest frequently mentioned cream pies, the accessory was nowhere to be seen on Sunday. An anonymous clown blamed the heat: “No one wants to be covered in whipped cream in 85 degrees…our cream pies were trashed. There were no clown pie raids.”
As more police began to close in around the protest, the bloq staged small scenes in front of officers and danced to the notes of a saxophone player who wandered among them. “I just want to try to keep everything light and happy,” explained Scrappy Doo, “A revolution without fun is not really a revolution.”
Better Late than NATO
“You’re sexy! You’re cute! Now take off that riot suit!” Thus went the rally cry at Sunday’s NATO march toward McCormick Place. The protest started off with a rally in Grant Park’s Petrillo Music Shell, ending at another rally on Cermak Road. In steaming ninety-degree heat, communist cheers provided proletarian pep as thousands of protesters trekked on down south.
Members of all creeds found ideological purchase at the protest. Bright-eyed peaceniks and a rowdy rabble of anarchist groups sauntered together in peculiar solidarity, while Trotskyites, Leninists, Black Panthers, grizzled vets, ACLU observers, and agitators targeting drone strikes mingled to the rhythm of the march.
Conversations about an impending revolution abounded, so I consulted a passing revolutionary (there were many). He told me, with a fervent passion that bordered on frumpy militarism, that NATO was the “armed muscle” of the wealthy classes, and that only direct action could bring about transformative change. His fervor jived well with the roiling mass. Lengthy Marx quotes floated by on massive placards as Ron Paul supporters waxed libertarian underneath. Powered by talk of Trotsky and the thrill of cop-enraging taunts, the body politic lumbered on toward the closing rally at Cermak.
The finale featured the Reverend Jesse Jackson alongside members of Veterans Against the War. Veteran after veteran lambasted NATO and the US military, symbolically returning the medals they had received for their service. When the rally ended, protesters were commanded, first by leaders of the rally, then by police, to disperse to the west (rather than marching east to McCormick Place). The crowd grew restless as they awaited confrontation. Meanwhile, hundreds of riot cops in full armor poured into the intersection, amid jeers and the hummed tune of the “Imperial March.”
The riot cops began inching slowly west to push the protestors back. Members of the black bloc and other protestors at the front were flinging themselves at the blockade or just refusing to move. The police were beating the protestors back with their batons, and some protestors were beating back with whatever they had. One protestor sagely informed me that he relished his right of “charging through police lines,” prior to “de-arrest[ing]” people.
Just prior to the start of the march, organizers played a recording left by Mumia Abu-Jamal, the long-incarcerated former Black Panther. The message concisely (although perhaps unintentionally) summarized the aspirations and intent behind most of the protests. In a voice that rumbled through Grant Park and down to McCormick Place, Abu-Jamal said, “We march to build a better future…Welcome to the beginning of the end of the empire!”
Additional reporting done by the CW staff.